JJ Today

Weekly Notes-Dec. 11

December 12, 2008 by John Kelly

***Last week, the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice met for its final quarterly meeting of 2008. It was the last convening of the council under the gavel of OJJDP Administrator J. Robert Flores, who will not be in office at the next meeting in March.

You know what that means: Plaques all around! Flores doled out large, black ones (the type you hang on the wall) with custom gold engraving to staffers who assisted with council matters. The council reciprocated with a small, crystal plaque (the type you place on your desk) for Flores. Photos were taken.

Then it was time to stuff a few conservative-friendly members into vacant spots on the council: Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative; Byron Johnson, director of the Institute for Studies of Religion and the Program on Prosocial Behavior (both at Baylor University); and Harry Wilson, former head of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families, now a consultant for ICF International.

Many people in the JJ field take a dim view of Flores' tenure at OJJDP, feeling that he has presided over nothing short of a decimation of the agency's value. More than a few advocates and practitioners might have flinched hearing Flores say at the final meeting that there is a need to "make sure people are always clamoring, ‘What works? What works?' "

For what it's worth, the coordinating council is not as critical; and since its time with Flores is done, its members didn't need to pull punches.

"I thought he did a good job" with "dwindling resources," said Gordon Martin, a council member and a retired juvenile judge from Massachusetts. Another member praised Flores for raising the coordinating council "to new heights."

Finding partners for OJJDP ventures seems to be what Flores is most proud of. His overview of the past seven years touted partnerships with the Department of Labor on the "Shared Youth Vision" project, the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the federal mentoring council, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration on juvenile drug courts and drug intervention projects.

Two resources discussed at the meeting could be useful for the incoming administration. First is a Comprehensive Community Toolkit, designed to help federal staff assist communities involved in federally-funded projects. Seems tailor-made for, say, Rep. Bobby Scott's Youth PROMISE Act.

The other is the website of the Interagency Working Group on Youth, which was created by President Bush last February. The Federal Youth Coordination Act envisioned a similar council, but Congress has yet to fund the act. The website has great community mapping functions.  

***If you haven't heard of the White House Boys, you soon will. A group of former wards of the Florida Industrial School for Boys (now the Dozier School) use their blog to inform the public about the brutality inflicted on juveniles sent to the school, which is in Marianna, Fla., just south of the Alabama border.

Now, at the White House Boys request, Florida says it will investigate a cemetery with 32 unmarked graves on the school's premises. What that investigation will find is all but certain: bodies of boys who were beaten, tortured and killed by staff. It would be truly one of the saddest chapters in the history of juvenile justice.

***Juvenile justice is not the bread and butter of the Wall Street Journal, but it did a great story on the (potential) prosecution of the 8-year-old boy recently accused of shooting his father and another man in Arizona. The article steps back from this singular incident and presents the philosophy of prosecuting very young children. A great graphic shows that 16 states have threshold ages for prosecution, some of them as low as seven years old. Perhaps better than not having a threshold at all ... but jeez. 

***Here is one connection between the youth work field and the downfall of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich: The state senate passed a law raising the age of jurisdiction for juvenile courts from age 17 to 18 for misdemeanor charges. That bill awaits Blagojevich's signature.

Will he get around to it before he might be forced out of office? Right-sizing the JJ system is a major focus of reformers in the state.

***Professor Charles Ogletree, executive director of Harvard's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, continues to be the main voice and ear on juvenile justice for President-Elect Barack Obama - along with Laurie Robinson, who is the transition team member assigned to review the Office of Justice Programs. (Check for his upcoming Q&A on JJ Today).

Ogletree spoke this week at the MacArthur Foundation's Models for Change conference in Alexandria, Va., and used the occasion to disseminate this report from the institute.  

JJ Today wishes a speedy recovery to Laurie Garduque, who is recovering from surgery for ovarian cancer (which was thankfully caught early). Garduque has led Models for Change since its inception.

***Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is looking for a new federal policy director to replace Miriam Rollin, who was promoted to chief operating officer. Experience with JJ is nice for the open post; knowledge of the way things work on Capitol Hill is pretty much a must, Rollin says.

***Last but not least, our condolences to the family of Bob Shepherd, former law professor at the University of Richmond and a past chair of the American Bar Association's Juvenile Justice Committee. He will be remembered for, among other things, his columns in ABA publications and Juvenile Justice Update, profound input on JJ policy and attention to implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

"He had an enormous influence on the field," an emotional Bob Schwartz told JJ Today. "And he was just an extremely good person."

 

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